Virtual Memories Show 382:
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“Growing up mixed-race, there’s a lot of soul-searching and identity-searching, and when you’re asked often enough ‘What are you?’, you start to ask that question of yourself.”
With Three Fifths (Agora), debut author John Vercher explores race and representation in a taut crime novel. We get into Black identity and the notion of ‘passing’ in America, the origins of Three Fifths and its evolution over a two-decade span, and how John’s literary idols led him to the spare prose that carries the book’s tension. We also get into his roundabout writing career, how an MFA program doesn’t necessarily prepare one for the job-aspects of writing, the decision to place Three Fifths in 1995 (think Rodney King, OJ trial, and no cell phones or internet), John’s martial arts background and how it informs his writing, how he integrated his characters’ love of superhero comics into their psychologies, the need to pay it forward, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Three Fifths!
“The shorter books of Ernest Gaines and James Baldwin pack far more emotional heft than books twice their length. At the end of 200 pages, you feel like you’ve just read an epic novel.”
“While I wrote the book to create conversations, I also write it selfishly, to explore some of the questions of representation.”
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About our Guest
John Vercher is a writer currently living in the Philadelphia area with his wife and two sons. He has a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Mountainview Master of Fine Arts program, and served as an adjunct faculty member at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
His fiction has appeared on Akashic Books’ flash fiction features Mondays are Murder and Fri-SciFi. John is a contributing writer for Cognoscenti, the thoughts and opinions page of WBUR Boston. Two of his essays published on race, identity, and parenting were picked up by NPR, and he has appeared on WBUR’s Weekend Edition. His non-fiction work has also appeared in Entropy Magazine, CrimeReads, and Booklist.
John’s debut novel, Three-Fifths, launched September 10th, 2019, from Agora, the diversity-focused imprint of Polis Books. Three-Fifths was chosen as the launch title for the imprint and received strong advance praise from Kirkus and starred reviews from the Library Journal and Booklist. Three-Fifths was named one of the best books of 2019 by the Chicago Tribune, a Notable Mention in CrimeReads best crime novels of 2019, a Best Debut Novel by CrimeReads, a Top 10 Crime Fiction Debut by Booklist, a 2020 Nominee for Left Coast Crime’s “Lefty” Award for Best Debut Novel, a 2020 Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel, and a 2020 nominee for The Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Follow John on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of John by someone else. It’s on my instagram.